By: Cassidy Beach
Eight hundred million people menstruate every single day, 2.3 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, and in India alone roughly 113 million adolescent females are at risk of missing or dropping out of school because of their period across the world. In many countries menstruation is deemed impure and considered taboo, leading females to be explicitly shamed while menstruating. Lack of access to sanitation services and period products, an absence of information, and strong social stigmas surrounding menstruation, results in severe social and physical health issues. This is referred to as Period Poverty: inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management. Like food and water, menstrual information and hygiene is a basic need. Period Poverty is a human rights issue that must be addressed by the United States (U.S.) federal government through the abolition and implementation of policy. Most nations and U.S. states impose a “Pink Tax” on females which prices menstrual products as a luxury good, making them more expensive and inaccessible. This further stigmatizes menstruation and perpetuates inequalities related to health and education by worsening social stigma and making the acquisition of products more difficult. According to Diya Ashtakala, an MAIA student from India, a menstruating female in India is physically isolated, prevented from touching food, and prohibited from prayer among other activities. Lack of education regarding this biological process causes undue harm to females and influences the course of their lives.
While the short term consequences of Period Poverty are vital to consider, so are the long-term issues. Because of negative perceptions of menstruation, there is a correlation between lost wages and absence from school with females’ period which increases the likelihood of child marriage and sexual and domestic abuse all of which affect mental health. Cardoso et al.’s 2021 paper “Period poverty and mental health implications among college-aged women in the United States” determined that those who experience Period Poverty every month are 24.7 percent more likely to suffer from severe depression than those who do not. Because of economic and social struggles, they are also at higher risk for anxiety disorders and other mental health issues.
Physical health issues related to menstruation are increasingly present as well. Physical health issues, inherently tied to economic hardships, result in serious infections and injury because of tactics females must use to survive. Low-income people may be forced to use old newspapers, toilet paper, socks, or plastic bags to manage their period. These tactics both reinforce the idea that menstruation is shameful while putting females at-risk. It is absolutely essential that the U.S. follows examples set by other countries, such as Scotland, to address Period Poverty.
In early 2020 Scotland passed the Period Products Bill, making menstrual products freely available in public places, essentially providing “free universal access to period products,” according to Scottish Parliament member Monica Lennon. The Period Products Bill not only destigmatized menstruation by drawing attention to Period Poverty as a global phenomenon, but provides females the opportunity for equal access to necessary products. While people who oppose such a bill may argue that providing period products will negatively impact the economy, the opposite is true. Lifting the burden of shame and economic insecurity from females contributes to increased freedoms and productivity. A study completed in Uganda showed a positive correlation between access to period products and school attendance: “absenteeism from school was 17 percent higher among girls who had no access to sanitary towels or information about puberty.” The U.S. has a responsibility to follow suit.
As a world leader that advocates for womens’ rights, it is necessary that the U.S. Congress and Senate take the crucial step to simultaneously eliminate the Pink Tax and provide menstrual products in public places. This will not only work to dismantle menstrual taboos within the U.S. itself, but also act as an example for other nations to reevaluate their perceptions of menstruation. Because of the immense influence the U.S. has over the rest of the world, actions taken by the federal government have the potential to influence other countries to take action to address Period Poverty. Though many may argue that repealing the Pink Tax should be an adequate step toward sex and gender equality, it is not. While abolishing the Pink Tax as an act alone will be immensely beneficial, implementing something similar to the Period Products Bill will enhance freedoms for females across the U.S. and likely throughout the world.